Woodlawn UMC and Mountain Chapel UMC partnership seeks to bring hope to the community


by Rev. Emily Freeman Penfield

God can do amazing things when people, and churches, combine their resources.

In 2013, Woodlawn and Mountain Chapel UMCs began a partnership to serve people in the Woodlawn community. This low-income neighborhood has several families who struggle with food insecurity, unemployment and transportation issues.

When Mason Boyd began to visit the area, he asked a resident what he needed help with – was it food, bill assistance, a job? The man answered , “we need hope!” Mason, formerly on staff as the youth minister at Mountain Chapel UMC, now works with both churches to infuse hope into the Woodlawn neighborhood as the Director of Outreach Ministries.

Some of the initiatives of the two churches do tackle the need for physical resources. But all of the ministries are committed to building trusting relationships centered around love of God and love for people.

For two years, the churches have come together to provide school supplies and uniforms for area students. Last summer there was a neighborhood cook-out and at Halloween a carnival – both events were a time for people to build relationships and socialize.

The most involved project is the Woodlawn Community Co-op. For many years Woodlawn UMC worked with area churches to provided a food pantry located on Woodlawn UMC’s campus. In the Spring of 2014, the pantry was closed, the building renovated and the model of food distribution changed. The low income food co-op has 25 families, who all qualify for government assisted food. Woodlawn UMC, Mountain Chapel UMC and another church buy the food from the Community Food Bank, but co-op members do the rest: choose, order, unload, sort and pack their food boxes together. They work in community to make sure each person has a job and each household gets enough food to feed the amount of people in their home. They will also begin collecting dues soon, which the co-op decides how it is spent. They may buy fresh produce from the farmer’s market, reach out to a family in need or save their money to create a stipend for a part-time position with the co-op. The hope is to begin another co-op for 25 households in the Spring of 2015. $158 provides groceries for a family through the co-op for a year.

The partnership between Woodlawn UMC and Mountain Chapel UMC has made way for new collaborations. Several members of Vestavia Hills UMC worked on the renovation of the co-op building. East Lake UMC and P.E.E.R., Inc. are planning to involve co-op members in gardening projects.

Rev. Emily Freeman Penfield, pastor of Woodlawn UMC, says, “I believe we will see more partnerships, especially between large-member and small-member churches. It’s the best of our connectional nature, using everybody’s resources to strengthen the work of the Kingdom of God.”

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